Sights in Siena
Siena is a wonderful medieval city built on three hills in the midst of the Tuscan countryside. Located about 40 miles south of Florence, Siena has long been its archrival, and this fact is evident in Sienese civic pride. Furthermore, residents are even more proud of the particular neighborhood where they reside.
The three hills divide Siena into three terza (districts) including Terza di Camollia, Terza di Cittą and Terza di San Martino. These three districts all meet at the central Piazza del Campo. Within these three terza are a total of 17 contrade (neighborhoods). Each terza and contrade has a distinct identity and mascot depicted on a flag. A person's allegiance always remains in the district where they were born. Many people are born into a contrade and never move elsewhere. Others will only marry someone from their own contrade. This strong communal pride culminates each year at the Palio horse race which determines the top neighborhood for the coming year.
Most Americans visit Florence but fail to see Siena. For those lucky ones who do, many find that they prefer Siena. Even with tourists in high season, you definitely get the feel of a living, thriving town.
Top sights in Siena
Piazza del Campo or Il Campo- This fan-shaped sloped piazza is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It is here where Siena's three terza meet, and it is a welcoming place for locals and tourists alike. In the piazza you'll find the Fonte Gaia or the Fountain of Joy. The piazza is lined with cafes, shops and the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall). The piazza is also the site for the Palio horse race held each year on July 2nd and August 16.
Museo Civico- This museum is inside the 13th Century Palazzo Pubblico, once the seat of Siena's government during the republican period. The frescoed museum houses many of Siena's most important paintings from the Renaissance. Access to the Torre del Mangia, the second highest medieval tower in Italy (335 feet) is also here. If you have a strong heart (and legs) you can climb the 503 steps to the top for stunning views over the roof tops of Siena to the countryside beyond.
Duomo- Siena's main 13th Century Romanesque and Gothic cathedral was planned to be one of the largest in Europe, but because of engineering problems and the plague of 1348 this never came to be. What was planned to be only the transept of the much larger cathedral is today the one you visit. Outside a high wall of stone arches outlines what would have been the full cathedral. The interior and facade are covered with designs in colored marble. Several important pieces of art, including a carved pulpit by Nicola Pisano, a library lined with frescos depicting the life of Pope Pius II and a Roman sculpture (Three Graces) after a Greek model and dating to the 3rd Century B.C. are kept here while other works are now housed in the nearby Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (separate entrance fee).
The Battistero or the Baptistery- The 14th Century Baptistery's Gothic exterior was never completed, but the interior is stunning, lined with frescoes that depict the life of Christ. All were painted by the best Sienese artists of their time.
Pinacoteca Nazionale- If you are interested in learning more about Sienese art, this is a great place to start. The museum's focus is the unique Sienese style of realism incorporating Greek and Byzantine influences, and rich colors.
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